Review: Salona (Melbourne, VIC)

260A Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 1460
www.salona.com.au

Melbourne is home to the largest Greek population outside of Greece – that’s a commonly known fact, especially if you’re from Melbourne yourself. This means there are more Greek restaurants in Melbourne than you can poke a souvlaki at. In addition to having some excellent Greek restaurants, however, Melbourne does have its fair share of mediocre ones. You know the ones I’m talking about: white washed walls, greasy and unseasoned meat platters and plates of soggy fried calamari with chips. They’re boring, overpriced and uninspiring.

Not Salona, though. They’ve been in the hospo business since 1972 and continues to retain a strong clientele. When I was living in Melbourne, I took the availability of Greek food for granted. It wasn’t until I moved did I realise how much I missed it. So when my friend Thanh asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner during a Melbourne catch-up, I was quick to say Greek food. Our friend Brandon tagged along and he, too, was more than happy to sink into plates of meaty goodness. (though Salona also do some vegetarian options these days – mushroom pastitsio, anyone?)

The restaurant itself is warm and cosy, especially during winter. The best way to do dinner at Salona is to order a bottle of Greek red wine to share (we got the Enotria Land Cabernet Sauvignon, $95) and select as many dishes to share. Be warned: things can get a bit messy.

I usually shy away from ordering dips at restaurants. To me, $10 for some bread and a little bit of dip brings out the Asian tightassness in me. That said, I do love a good taramasalata (cod roe dip) and Brandon was taking quite some time to get here so up went my hand and soon after, some dip landed in front of us. Salona uses a mixture of white and red cod roe in their dip, before infusing it with lemon and olive oil. The dip was sensational and so was the warm pita bread that came with it.

Tarama ($9)

By the time Brandon rocked up, we were ready to attack. Our first starter was the scallops, served with kalamata olive jam and mountain tea jelly (mountain tea being a Greek herbal tea). I loved how the team at Salona dared to play around with modern twists and this dish worked beautifully.

Grilled scallops with mountain tea jelly and kalamata olive jam ($17)

For the saganaki, I was expecting a neat wedge of saganaki in a pan and perhaps some prawns in a tomato and leek sauce on the side. Close, but no filo cigar. The prawns, tomato and leek were all baked inside the pan, which was closed off with some gooey kafelograviera cheese. It was decadent and oh-so-perfect given the chilly winter air outside.

King prawn saganaki ($17)

As to be expected, there was quite a lot of lamb on the menu so we were good to narrow our selections to just two options. First up, the lamb ribs glazed in a lovely ouzo and honey mixture and served with skordalia. The ribs were deliciously succulent and their sticky sweetness paired well with the garlicky potato puree.

Ouzo and honey glazed lamb ribs served with skordalia ($16)

Then came the lamb shoulder, which had been slow cooked in a rich tomato braise. While it was comforting and tasty, I enjoyed the lamb ribs more – the flavour combination for that dish was way more interesting.

Lamb Riganato shoulder served with baked potatoes ($34)

Of course, we had to order a salad to balance out all the meats. We ditched the ubiquitous Greek salad and went for the roasted beet salad, served with spring onion, walnut, grilled manouri cheese, house made pomegranate balsamic. I can’t really describe the salad as light but it was definitely tasty and would definitely stand on its own as a single meal.

Roasted beef salad ($17)

In hindsight, the Angus beef (the last of the savoury dishes to arrive) was probably a dish we didn’t need to order as we were pretty much full at this stage. Still, we weren’t going to say no to trying some beef ribs – especially since it was served on a pea and herb skordalia, something that I was curious to try. Put simply, they substituted the potatoes for peas and garlic for herbs. As a result, the puree was delicious but definitely lighter on the stomach than the traditional potato version. The beef ribs themselves were cooked in a rich tomato stew, very similar to the lamb shoulder so there was a bit of déjà vu happening. It was a nice dish but like I said, something that I could have happily passed.

Angus beef rib Kokinisto served on pea and herb skordali ($33)

We were ready to split but when our waiter came around with the dessert menu, telling us that the galaktobouriko was ‘really good’, well, how were we to say no? FYI, galaktobouriko is a type of semolina custard that’s either baked with filo in a shallow dish or wrapped in filo pastry and served individually as fingers. In this case, we got the shallow dish option that came with a LOT of vanilla bean custard. The custard was lovely, though I was hoping for a more even ratio of custard and filo to even out the richness. The lemon and cinnamon fused syrup on top did help a bit though.

Galaktobouriko ($13)

In Melbourne’s Greek restaurant scene, there are a lot of hits but just as many misses. As for Salona, I liked some dishes better than others but I would definitely class this one as a hit – and one that I’d definitely return to again.

Salona Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Tran Tran (Melbourne, VIC)

74/76 Victoria Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 6147

One thing that Gold Coast lacks is a decent Vietnamese restaurant. There are a few up on the Glitter Strip but sadly, these places often serve a very modified version of pho that’s way overpriced and lacking in flavour. So whenever I’m down in Melbourne, I make it my aim to visit at least a couple of Vietnamese joints, whether it be a banh mi (Vietnamese pork roll) kiosk in Footscray or a restaurant on Victoria Street that dishes out piping hot bowls of pho.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed these Vietnamese meals with my parents. Excited about the possibility of enjoying yet another bowl of aromatic pho, I asked my folks if they were free to do lunch on Victoria Street one Sunday afternoon – they were. And all throughout that Sunday morning, my stomach growled in anticipation: I was finally going to have a proper bowl of pho after three months.

During those three months I was away, however, something strange happened to my parents: their taste in Vietnamese food – and restaurants – changed… and I had no idea how, why and when. In the past, my parents were happy going to places like Hung Vuong and Chu The. Now, they claim they’re ‘too dirty’ and instead, prefer sanitised places like Tho Tho that obviously cater to a western audience. This was very strange – especially since my parents grew up in Indonesia, having happily eaten roadside chicken satays for a number of decades before moving to Melbourne. And even then, they were more than happy with sitting down at a run-down Vietnamese point, slurping bowls of pho.

As it happened, we ended up at Tran Tran, just down the road from Tho Tho. Graced with polished white tile walls and orb lighting, the people running Tran Tran created an impressive space that was clean and contemporary – and not a single Asian was sitting inside. Sadly, these were the sort of places I would have normally avoided if I wanted authentic Vietnamese food. In fact, the waitress actually looked surprised to see us, three Asians, walking in.

I glared at my parents but my dad only shrugged, meekly saying: ‘blame your mother’ before she responded with a: ‘at least this place is smart – it attracts all the orang bule.’ I guess she had a fair point, from a marketing perspective anyway. But anyway, let’s get onto the food.

Spring rolls
Spring rolls

The three of us shared some prawn and pork spring rolls to start off with. I don’t remember how much they were but they did the job – nothing special but they curbed my cravings for the humble crispy ‘roll.

Pho ($9)
Pho ($9)

I had the pho – or as they said on their menu, ‘noodles with sliced beef with a choice of rice or egg noodles’ (dear me). My first thought was: ‘why does it come with fried shallots?’

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My second thought was ‘why is there a helluva lot of overcooked bean shoots underneath the noodles?!’

It was the strangest bowl of pho, I’ve ever had – at least in Melbourne. There was a slight hint of flavour in the broth, so at least you can say that they tried to make it taste like proper pho (cf. Berlin where it’s blatantly obvious that they sweeten the crap out of the broth to appease local diners). Overall though, it lacked the depth that one would normally expect from a good bowl of pho.

There is certainly a market for places like Tran Tran in Melbourne; indeed, they were doing a roaring lunchtime trade with happy Caucasians filling each table. But I’d never go back, especially since there are much better places on the same strip. One thing’s for sure though: I’m never agreeing to Vietnamese with my folks ever again.

Tran Tran Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Pillar of Salt (Melbourne, VIC)

541 Church Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9421 1550
http://www.pillarofsalt.com.au/

A weekend down in Melbourne saw me catch up with inspirational foodie friends, Thanh and Hannah. For the most part, Thanh and I don’t particularly love brunch food – or the act of spending half our mornings freezing our bums off in the cold while we wait for a coveted table at Melbourne brunch hotspot #432432 to clear. Yet somehow, the three of us agreed to meet at Pillar of Salt, yet another one of Melbourne’s most popular brunch spots.

I can’t remember what time we agreed to meet that Saturday morning – it was definitely not before 9am (Melburnians don’t get up that early) but we weren’t pushing lunchtime, too. Either way, we were told (sometime between 10am and 11am) that there would be a 30-minute wait. I don’t like queuing for food so in normal circumstances, I would have said, ‘yeah nah, not waiting’ and then looked for other options. Hannah, however, had arrived there a good 10 minutes before Thanh and I – and had already invested that time in line. So we agreed to wait.

I think we waited more than 30 minutes. As the clock inched towards the 45-minute mark, we started to get narky. Why was this café named after the Biblical Lot’s wife attracting such long wait queues? Is the food really that good? Are the coffees made out of magical beans? Finally, we were seated.

Macchiato ($3.80)
Macchiato ($3.80)

From there, the service was speedy with a liberal dose of friendliness and good humour. So far, so good. My (second) macchiato (of the day) was indeed magical, a smooth house blend roasted by Five Senses was enough to curb my hunger pangs and yearning for a GOOD Melbourne coffee. (I had arrived from Queensland only the day before.)

Kimchi, corn and sweet potato fritters ($17)
Kimchi, corn and sweet potato fritters ($17)

Thanh ordered the kimchi fritters, corn and sweet potato fritters, a dish that I would not have otherwise ordered myself as I’m not a fan of sweet potato. That said, the fritters themselves weren’t too bad – there was a well-balanced mix of flavours and the kimchi was not at all overpowering. I did find all the add-ons (pink grapefruit cured kingfish, pineapple and wombok slaw, sour cream and house-made kimchi hot sauce) a bit too much, though.

Pan-fried Portuguese sardines ($16.50)
Pan-fried Portuguese sardines ($16.50)

I had originally opted for the pan-fried sardines – and Hannah, the porridge. A serious case of food envy, however, saw Hannah constantly eying my sardines and so we swapped. That was okay – I was also eyeing her porridge anyway. The sardines were served on toast with house-made ketchup, pickled red onions, truss cherry tomatoes, capers and preserved lemon. It was a much simpler combination than Thanh’s overly complicated fritters – and it worked. A great balance of flavours and a dish that wasn’t too heavy on the stomach, either.

Organic wholegrain porridge ($14.50)
Organic wholegrain porridge ($14.50)

I’m not normally one to order sweet breakfasts but this porridge was definitely one I can see myself ordering if I came here again. The grains were cooked in almond milk and served with strawberries, bananas, Coyo yoghurt and toasted shaved coconut. For an added flavour boost, they also threw in some agave syrup and activated almonds, which I thought was borderline wanky but anyway. It was a dish that was certainly worthy of a hundred Instagram likes, but also lived up to its good looks. Full of substance, flavour and texture, it was the perfect heart- and soul-warming dish to start a cold autumn morning on.

Boasting some excellent dishes and wonderful service, I can see why Pillar of Salt is one of Richmond’s better places to visit for a weekend brunch. The food errs on the quirky side and when done well, the results were amazing. And despite the fact that there was a constant queue outside, we – and the rest of the patrons sitting inside – did not feel rushed to finish our food and get the hell out. I’d definitely go back – but I’d make sure I’d be there early to avoid the wait.

Pillar of Salt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Feast of Merit (Melbourne, VIC)

117 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9428 8480
http://www.feastofmerit.com/

It took my parents almost 30 years of Melbourne to get into brunch – or ‘white people food’ in general. You see, my folks (like a lot of Baby Boomer Asians) are stubborn creatures of habit when it comes to food so they normally stick to what they know. For them, it’s Indonesian food, Chinese food (and by Chinese, I mean Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese and maybe a bit of Shanghainese) and Japanese food as long as it’s not too expensive.

When it comes to Western food, however, things get a bit tricky. They like Italian food – but only the type they’re used to, so La Porchetta and Sofia’s (which ain’t really Italian food but let’s not get into that…). Greek food is too meaty. French food is too fatty. Spanish food is too exotic. German food is too bland. And so on.

They were also never into brunches either.

Then one day – and don’t ask me how because I don’t know – something changed. Suddenly, they were into their third wave coffees, their Saturday morning brunches in Camberwell and their paper bags filled with non-Nutella-filled donuts. I don’t know what happened and whether my absence may have something to do with it but hey.

The last time I was down, they took me to Feast of Merit. Neither my parents or myself had been there before but its proximity to where I needed to be later that morning and positive reviews was enough to get them to drive 30 minutes to Richmond, drive around for another 30 minutes to find parking and then wait another 10 minutes for a table to open up.

To be fair, a 10-minute wait was pretty good given Feast of Merit’s location, the time of day (9am, Saturday) and how busy the place was. Before we knew it, the three of us were seated in a cosy corner towards the back of the restaurant.

Coffee (lattes $3.80, short macchiato $3.30)
Coffee (lattes $3.80, short macchiato $3.30)

I really liked the coffees here; made with a special St Ali blend, our coffees were smooth with a strong chocolate and caramel finish. The milk they used was gloriously rich and creamy, hailing from Saint David Dairy in Fitzroy, the only micro-dairy in Melbourne’s inner ‘burbs.

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Now, I had another breakfast to go to that morning (!) so there was no way I was going to eat an entire big breakfast-esque dish to myself. In the end, we decided to share two dishes between the three of us. When it comes to most things (asking for free samples of Aesop products at David Jones, for example), I have no shame but here I was, worrying whether we’d be silently judged for being tight arses. If we were judged though, the staff didn’t show it. Instead, they happily offered to give us spare cutlery and plates so I can dig out my share of the edible goods.

Shakshouka ($16)
Shakshouka ($16)

Dad ordered the shakshouka (‘what’s this? It sounds unusual, I gotta have that!’). Upon first bite, he initially found the peppery tomato stew to be ‘very tangy, ugh.’ After a few more spoonfuls though, he got used to the taste. Combined with green eggs, tahini, labneh, cumin and harissa, it was a dish that filled him up quickly in a satisfying way – and best of all, he felt good about not having to eat meat.

Olive oil poached white fish, smoked potato, dukkah, whey dressing, soft egg, organic high tin toast ($18)
Olive oil poached white fish, smoked potato, dukkah, whey dressing, soft egg, organic high tin toast ($18)

Now THIS is a dish that you won’t find in many places. I’ve always loved the idea of having fish for breakfast (I was in heaven in Japan last year…) so when Mum decided she was going to have this dish, I did a little fist pump in my mind. The fish was beautifully cooked and tender to the touch. Matching it was a bit of smoked potato, dukkah, poached egg and toast. It would have been an excellent meal on its own but Mum insisted on adding a side of beech smoked bacon ($6). Now, I love bacon like the next (non-vegetarian) person but it did tip the dish into the ‘omg, this is too much’ territory. Thanks, Mum.

We were in and out within 45 minutes, an impressive feat given how busy they were. The three of us were happy with our dishes and the pace of our meal; I’d love to come back and try some of their other dishes, maybe even during dinner. Maybe after I’ve convinced my parents to try a tapas session or dig into a plate of schweinshaxe.

Feast of Merit Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Botherambo (Melbourne, VIC)

65 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9428 9730
http://www.botherambo.com.au/

To most Melburnians, the city end of Swan Street used to be a foodie wasteland of crappy pubs and sleazy drinking holes. Not anymore, folks. In recent times, we’ve seen places such as Meatball and Wine Bar pop up along with Fonda Mexican, Noir, Union Dining and Feast of Merit. And towards the end of last year, we also welcomed fiery Southeast Asian tiger, Botherambo to the now eclectic mix.

Botherambo’s close proximity to Richmond Station and Melbourne’s sporting complexes, including the MCG makes it perfect for a post-match drink or feed if you want something other than parmas or steaks. I, myself, just so happened to be at the cricket that day and what better way to celebrate a well-fought day by the Aussies than sussing out this feisty dragon with Thanh.

As we were walking into the restaurant, we were stopped by a bouncer at the door: he wanted to check my bag. After deciding that the contents of my Longchamp Pliage was not going to harm anyone, he ushered us in. Now, I can understand the need to check bags at sporting complexes, bars and karaoke venues but restaurants? Wow, okay, this was a first… and to be honest, it was a bit wanky.

Chaffey bros ‘dufte punkt’ Riesling blend, Eden Valley
Chaffey bros ‘dufte punkt’ Riesling blend, Eden Valley

‘Never mind,’ we thought as we got ourselves comfortable at the bar. Although there were plenty of table seating when we rocked up, we decided to sit high on the bar for perving purposes (well, I can’t speak for Thanh but me on the other hand… hee!). With a lovely Riesling blend from Eden Valley (loved the name too!), we got straight to work.

For those of you who are fans of Bangpop, you’ll probably feel a hint of deja vu when eating at Botherambo – after all, the chef is none other than Kam McManamey who is famous for introducing Melburnians to Bangpop’s bold and spicy Thai dishes that can make even the most seasoned spicy food eaters sweat.

Fried egg ($4)
Fried egg ($4)

To start, we split a fried egg which was still beautifully runny in the middle. Coriander, nam jim and lime gave the dish a zingy kick, while the shallots added a slight crunch.

Crispy duck leg salad ($18)
Crispy duck leg salad ($18)

Next came the duck leg salad which contained kohlrabi, cucumber and lychee, and was drizzled in a lime, chilli and fish sauce dressing. All well and good, but I found the dressing way too sour – even the lychees did nothing to diffuse the salad with their sweetness.

Cold smoked ocean trout ($21)
Cold smoked ocean trout ($21)

This wasn’t in the salad section but it should have been. Cold pieces of trout were hidden underneath a mass of green papaya, young coconut, kaffir lime and chilli, topped with a little bit of Yarra Valley roe. Now, Thanh and I both thought the dressing was exactly the same as the one in the crispy duck leg salad so it was almost like we were eating the same dish, but with different proteins. Disappointingly, we also could not taste the young coconut and the smokiness of the trout – so strong and overpowering was that dressing.

Crispy pork belly ($16)
Crispy pork belly ($16)

Next came the crispy pork belly served with sticky rice (image below), nam prik pla raa, crispy shallots and lime. Unfortunately, the pork was very dry throughout so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have liked. The only saving grace, really, was the fact that it didn’t have any of that same-same dressing the other two dishes had.

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MS7+ wagyu beef cheek ($38)
MS7+ wagyu beef cheek ($38)

The beef cheek was meant to be Botherambo’s signature dish. Unfortunately, it came with a green mango salad that was, yes, drizzled with that same overpowering lime, chilli and fish sauce dressing dammit! The salted prawns would have been a nice touch if they weren’t drowned out by the ridiculous amount of fish sauce that was used (and this is from someone who LOVES fish sauce) but no, we were left disappointed despite the fact that the beef was actually cooked well.

For all the social media buzz Botherambo attracted, both Thanh and I were left disappointed. True, it could have been due to the fact that we ordered the wrong dishes but seriously, what are the odds that three of the four big dishes ordered from different sections of the menu and containing different meats would taste essentially the same?

While I can see Botherambo being successful on Swan Street (it desperately needed a ‘cool’ slightly upmarket Asian joint), I myself wouldn’t bother returning.

Botherambo on Urbanspoon

Review: Happy Kappa (Melbourne, VIC)

85 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9428 8672

I spent quite some time interning at a national sporting organisation not too long ago. And for the most part, I was happy. Not just because of the fantastic people I got to meet and not just because of the invaluable skills I learnt and networks I developed but because the organisation was only a 5 minute tram ride from Swan Street, a pandora’s box of culinary gems waiting to be discovered.

Five years ago, Swan Street was not considered the culinary heartland of Richmond (why, when you have places like Victoria Street and Bridge Roads with all their vibrant food offerings?). However, things have changed for the better and Swan Street is full of places worth checking out if you ‘forget’ to bring your lunch.

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A place that I visited quite a bit (and have returned to even after I finished my internship) is Happy Kappa. This grungy Japanese café is only open on weekdays but its kooky interior, friendly service and cheap lunches make it the ideal spot for office workers to grab a bite to eat.

Chicken katsu don ($8.80)
Chicken katsu don ($8.80)

In addition to the Japanese curries, my go-to dish at Happy Kappa is the chicken katsu don. At only $8.80 for a generously-sized portion, the dish represents excellent value and is delicious. The crumbed chicken piece is deep fried before being chucked in a bowl with rice, egg, and cooked onions. Highly recommended.

Miso ramen ($8.80)
Miso ramen ($8.80)

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the ramen. In hindsight, ordering ramen was a silly thing to do at Happy Kappa given that it’s obviously not something they specialised in. However, I’m a sucker for ramen so I knew I had to try the miso ramen out, one of two ramen choices they had on offer (the other being miso ramen WITH fried chicken).

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So the chicken broth tasted like it was heavily laced with MSG, yet it was one-dimensional and bland at the same time. There was no egg or meat in it, only corn kernels, a shitload of carrots (what), spring onion, seaweed and sesame for flavouring. Yeah no, sorry.

If you skip the ramen, you can’t go wrong with lunch at Happy Kappa. Obvs, go for their rice dishes as I can vouch for them (sorry, didn’t take a photo of the curries I had but if you like Don Don’s curries, you’ll like these). If you do go and if you try their udon dishes, please let me know what you think.

Happy Kappa on Urbanspoon

Review: Café Azul (Melbourne, VIC)

346 Bridge Road
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9421 5959

I have a friend who lives just around the corner from the bustling Bridge Road precinct. I envy Nick and his fiancée Bibi – all they need to do is wake up, make themselves look semi-presentable and walk a few metres down the road before being presented by several dozen cafés, drinking holes and restaurants including a Hungarian restaurant, a Nepalese restaurant and a couple of dumpling restaurants.

Nick and Bibi may be spoilt for choice but there is one café that they return to quite a bit and that is Café Azul. The word ‘azul’ means ‘blue’ in Spanish and given that Nick had just arrived back from Cuba with a horrendous three-month old beard (after proposing to Bibi!), it seemed somewhat appropriate that he would choose this spot for our hangover brunch session. Actually, I should cross out that ‘our’ – I was the one who had a few drinks before seeing Grease! the previous night. Nick was totally fine.

Watermelon, pineapple, orange and cucumber juice ($6.50)
Watermelon, pineapple, orange and cucumber juice ($6.50)

I must have been on a coffee ban that week for I ordered a mixed juice instead of my usual latte. I dare say that the refreshing combination and pineapple mixed with cucumber juice was more efficient in waking me up that morning than a cup of coffee!

California Breakfast: four cheese toast, smoked bacon, fried eggs, avocado, spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli ($18)
California Breakfast: four cheese toast, smoked bacon, fried eggs, avocado, spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli ($18)

Nick ordered something that sounded so horrendous, the California Breakfast. From what I know about Californian food (through following the Dawn books in the Babysitters Club series and watching The Simple Life), I was expecting to see a completely healthy dish. However, my brain quickly recovered (‘Nick? Eat healthy? SINCE WHEN?’) as soon as I saw the massive plate of bacon, fried eggs, cheesy toast accompanied by some spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli. In fact, the only healthy thing on the plate was the avocado.

To be honest, it actually didn’t taste that bad. In fact, I can see why Nick orders this dish all the time. The flavours went well together and if it’s filling enough for 6’3-tall Nick not to bother with lunch or dinner, then it represents excellent value.

Smoked trout omelette with dill and caper aioli, sweet peas, greens, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and sourdough croutons ($19)
Smoked trout omelette with dill and caper aioli, sweet peas, greens, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and sourdough croutons ($19)

I went for one of their specials, the smoked trout omelette. My dish was heavier than it sounded on paper, but definitely not as rich as Nick’s. That said, I didn’t have the urge to eat dinner afterwards so this was another value-for-money-er. I especially loved the added crunch that the croutons gave to the dish.

Café Azul is a decent enough café for those who don’t live far from Bridge Road. While I couldn’t see many Spanish influences (I guess there is that California connection but still), I guess it doesn’t really matter. Café Azul offers the usual smashed avocado and poached eggs dishes that 99% of Melbourne’s brunch places have plus a few interesting dishes (as above) to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, I never got to try their coffee so I can’t say if it’s worth coming to for a cuppa. Given the steady stream of patrons coming in and out for takeaway coffees though, I dare say that they also do an okay brew.

Cafe Azul on Urbanspoon

Review: Pecking Order (Melbourne, VIC)

440 Church Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 3771
http://www.peckingorder.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guest of Pecking Order.

I hope all you lovely readers had a very Merry Christmas/Festivus and that you were sensible enough not to each TOO much food (ahem)!

Now that Christmas is done and dusted for a year and now that I’ve had my few days of rest, I’m going to try to blog regularly – that is, until I leave you all again for a couple of weeks for an overseas trip. And now that we’re all pretty much sick of turkey, let’s turn our focus to the other bird: ostrich chicken.

A couple of months ago, I was invited to give Pecking Order, Richmond’s newest chook shop, a go. Owner Trent Hibbs was an Operations Manager once upon a time ago but decided to open up Pecking Order when he realised that there was a lack of free-range dining options in Melbourne. I have to agree with him – while I do love my Nandos quarter chicken and chips, I am often disappointed when I find that the meat is more often than not, watery and tasteless. Enter Pecking Order and their free-range flame grilled chicken – all au natural, grass-fed and best of all, local.

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The menu is very Nandos-like with chicken in all sizes, burgers and wraps being big ticket items. There’s also a bit of an American twist happening with brownie thickshakes and grilled Buffalo wings also available. There is even a popcorn machine by the counter so customers can help themselves to a few kernels while waiting – I thought that was a pretty nice touch.

Posh nuggets and aioli ($4.50)
Posh nuggets and aioli ($4.50)

The ‘posh nuggets’ were made up of tender chicken breast pieces coated with Japanese panko breadcrumbs. I don’t normally order nuggets at restaurants so my most recent point of reference was a box of soft chicken McNuggets from goodness-knows-when. It took a while to get used to the initial ‘eek chicken breast wah wah dry’ feeling before I realised that they were actually really good nuggets – I especially loved the extra crunch the panko breadcrumbs gave. Oh, and they were pretty big too.

Central Park burger: chicken, fresh rocket, vine tomato, pickle, cheddar, tomato chutney and Dijon mustard ($12)
Central Park burger: chicken, fresh rocket, vine tomato, pickle, cheddar, tomato chutney and Dijon mustard ($12)

Pecking Order continues its dabble in Americana by naming their burgers after famous American places such as Venice Beach and, in this case, Central Park. I’m not sure what makes this burger particularly New York-y but it was delicious nonetheless. My only gripe was that I wish they melted the cheese a little bit, though.

Chicken salt crinkle cut fries ($3)
Chicken salt crinkle cut fries ($3)

You can’t really go wrong with crinkle cut fries and chicken salt so this little cup of salty goodness capped off a fantastic meal. They were fresh from the fryer and beautifully crunchy. I also loved that they were generous with the seasoning too.

It’s very hard to get chicken breast right – especially the non-hormone addled version – but Pecking Order seems to know what they’re doing. I wish there were more free-range options in the city or in my area but it’s good to know that I can always go down the road to Pecking Order if I’m watching either at the ‘G or Melbourne Park.

Pecking Order on Urbanspoon

Product Review: Eat Now Australia feat. Mojo’s Weird Pizza (Richmond) (Melbourne, VIC)

Mojo’s Weird Pizza
308 Bridge Road
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 9429 5535
http://www.mojosrichmond.com.au/

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post brought to you by Eat Now Australia. I very rarely do paid sponsored posts but I thought this product was worth sharing.

I work in the Melbourne CBD – but the arse end of it. This means that I’m situated far away from all the hustle and bustle of the heart of the city and subsequently all the food options. These days, I very rarely buy lunch – not just because I’m trying to save money but also because there simply aren’t many good options. So when I heard about Eat Now, an online food delivery website that listed restaurants in the Melbourne city that delivered during lunch time, I was excited. Excited, because there were a handful of restaurants situated beyond the arse end but I didn’t have to leave the office to visit them.

Owned by the Catch group since 2012, Eat Now currently boasts more than 2000 participating restaurants across Australia. In addition to having a decent list of restaurants in the city, they also boast a variety of options in the Eastern suburb I live in. I don’t normally get food delivered at home as most non-pizza places in my area don’t deliver. However, it was good to know that I can now enjoy Cantonese food from Canton Chinese and even pizza from Heidelberg if I use the Eat Now website.

The Eat Now website is pretty easy to use. All you need to do is plug in your postcode in the search field and a list of restaurants in the area will appear – for example, a list of participating Melbourne restaurants can be found here. An iPhone app is also available and although I’ve yet to use it, I doubt that it’ll be difficult to navigate.

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All restaurants have their menus up on the Eat Now website, including Mojo’s which you can find here. All you need to do is select whatever you want and it’ll appear on the right side of the screen where a running total is kept, including any delivery charges, first timer discounts or promo codes applied.

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Eat Now accepts most payment types including credit card, cash on delivery and even PayPal. Once you’ve selected your payment type, you are prompted to enter a contact number and a delivery address. There is also room to write special comments if needed (I didn’t write that, of course. I was just trying to be funny – but failed, obvs).

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You will then get a confirmation notification once everything is done. This means that all the details have been sent to the restaurant, and all you have to do is wait. I was pretty impressed with Mojo’s Weird Pizza – I told them to come at 12:30pm and they were there at 12:27pm. Of course, delivery times vary between restaurants and I was pretty lucky that day.

So how was the food?

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We ordered the following pizzas, all in medium:

Tantulus: Pesto, semi-dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, tasty cheese, roasted and marinated pumpkin, potato, red capsicum and eggplant ($17).

Woodsman: BBQ sauce, hot salami, ham, tasty cheese, Spanish onion, bacon, chicken breast and sesame seeds (medium, $17).

The Lot: Napoli sauce, hot salami, ham, tasty cheese, onion, mushroom, green capsicum, pineapple, bacon, prawns, kalamata olives (medium, $15).

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Mojo’s don’t make the sort of pizza you’d find in Naples or Rome, but they don’t pretend to either. Strange toppings are their selling point and given that there are a few Mojo’s stores around Melbourne, it seems that customers totally dig this concept.

Having said that, my favourite of three was ‘The Lot’ – I guess I’m too much of a conservative (then again, proper pizza lovers don’t eat pineapple on their pizzas don’t they? So hmmm…). The Woodsman was also very tasty but because I’ve never been a huge fan of BBQ sauce on pizza, I only had one slice. I didn’t like the Tantulus very much though – the pesto was way too sweet and that pretty much ruined the pizza for me.

Would I try Mojo’s again? Look, it’s alright and if there were no other pizza places that delivered to our office, I’d definitely make an order again. Thing is, there are at least a dozen of them on Eat Now’s list and I’d rather try the other places first.

But back to Eat Now. Would I use it again? I already have (review of Donburi to come). It’s so easy to use and it makes lunchtime slightly more bearable for us arse-end city workers.

Mojo's Weird Pizza on Urbanspoon

Review: Fonda Mexican, Richmond (Melbourne, VIC)

248 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 0085
www.fondamexican.com.au

As part of my studies, I am doing a media internship at one of my favourite sporting organisations. I may have only just started the internship but so far, so good. The people are great, I’m learning heaps and I’m surrounded by lots of colourful balls. Another good thing about working here is that Swan Street is only a tram ride away so I have a chance to explore its eateries when I feel like venturing out for lunch.

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Last week, I felt like Mexican so it was off to Fonda Mexican. It might have been a grey winter day in Melbourne but Fonda’s friendly counter staff and the rows of brightly coloured stools perked me up. So did the ‘If you simply dislike avocado, onion, coriander, lime or chilli, Mexican may not be for you?’ line on the allergy disclaimer section thingy on the menu, heh. I was also wooed by the enticing drinks menu (lychee and elderflower frozen margarita, oh my!) but like I was going to return to work with a BAC greater than 0.00.

At Fonda, orders are placed at the counter and you grab a number before finding a seat. I rocked up in the middle of lunchtime, but was fortunate enough to find a seat in the adjacent dining room. I was also lucky enough to receive my food within minutes.

Charred corn ($4)
Charred corn ($4)

I started off with a piece of charred corn which was dressed with chipotle aioli and shredded ricotta salata. Although the corn was reasonably priced (I think places such as Mamasita et al charge a little bit more for the same dish), I did find it a little bit bland – what, they couldn’t put more aioli on it?! Not even the miniscule piece of lime could add enough zest to the corn which was otherwise beautifully fresh.

Fish burrito ($16)
Fish burrito ($16)

According to the blogosphere, fish seems to the way to go here. I initially thought about going the beef or the kangaroo burrito after a bad experience with fish tacos on the Gold Coast. However, I decided to follow the herd (baa-baa!) by ordering the fish burrito.

The crew uses dough from Abbotsford Convent bakery to make their burritos, which are pressed to order. My 12 inch burrito, which was conveniently cut in half, was filled with fresh rockling fillets, fluffy quinoa, black beans, pickles, avocado, corn and green salsa. Our friend chipotle aioli made an appearance. Like the charred corn, the aioli here was not applied liberally but it worked well in this case because it meant that it didn’t overpower the freshness of the other ingredients. I was full after eating only one half of the burrito and ended up taking the other half home for supper.

I may be telling people how I’m ‘WAH WAH OVER THE MEXICAN CRAZE WAH’ but I was really impressed by my meal at Fonda Mexican. The food may not be authentic (c’mon, roo tacos?) and they’re doing that annoyingly wanky drinks in jar with striped straw thing. However, the food is reasonably priced, delicious and more importantly, fresh.

Fonda Mexican on Urbanspoon